The Annals of Internal Medicine has a report entitled Sex Differences in Attainment of Independent Funding by Career Development Awardees … but I found the overall attainment statistics quite telling. The authors measured the rates at which recipients of K08 and K23 awards (2,784 awardees from 1997-2003 were studied) subsequently secured R01 awards. The bottom line:
Overall, 31.4% of the 1919 K08 awardees and 43.7% of the 865 K23 awardees were female (P < 0.001). Women were less likely than men to receive an R01 award (P < 0.001). The actuarial rate of R01 award attainment at 5 years was 22.7% overall, 18.8% among women, and 24.8% among men. At 10 years, the rate was 42.5% overall, 36.2% among women, and 45.6% among men. Sex persisted as an independent significant predictor of R01 award attainment (hazard ratio, 0.79 [95% CI, 0.68 to 0.92]; P = 0.002) in multivariate analysis controlling for K award type, year of award, funding institute, institution, and specialty.
This is through the 2007 cycle. Imagine the stats in a couple of years.
The authors were looking at a potential blockage in the pipeline to increase the number women faculty and chairs, noting that “in 2007, women constituted 49% of the medical student body but only 33% of medical faculty, 17% of full professors, and 12% of department chairs at U.S. medical schools.” A couple of their discussion point apply to any K awardee though:
K awards are designed to provide both protected time and mentoring to support the research career development of recipients. However, qualitative evidence collected by the NIH (18) suggests that the financial support offered by K awards may sometimes be insufficient to protect three quarters of the recipient’s working time, as these awards are generally intended to do. Some recipients may face pressure to allocate substantial time to clinical activities. To the extent that women receive smaller awards, protecting time for research may be particularly problematic for them.
The quality of the mentoring relationships of K award recipients also merits further investigation and targeted support. Mentoring is essential to the success of junior investigators in general and may be particularly important for female junior investigators (21–24). Mentoring has long been heralded as a mechanism by which to combat sex disparities in the professions. Some studies have suggested that the quality of mentoring received by women may be inferior to that received by men (15, 25), but others have found no differences (26, 27). K awards require recipients to receive designated mentorship. The low rate of R01 award attainment demonstrated in our study raises important concerns about the quality of mentoring within the K award program and whether mentors are prepared to deal with the special challenges female award recipients face.
The authors acknowledged their time frame may have been too short … but, aside from career breaks for family reasons, I don’t know of too many tenure clocks that extend beyond 10 years, even for clinicians, and the idea is for K awardees to secure their R01 during the K support period. It only gets harder once the K runs out.
Success of career development award recipients, who have a demonstrated aptitude and commitment to research and in whom considerable societal resources have been invested, is critical evidence of whether the physician-scientist pipeline is functioning adequately.